At least 10 people were injured and another 10 arrested during an armed clash in the capital’s Borei Keila community yesterday morning, as more than 100 police officials, guards and workers from a private company demolished more than 200 homes.
District police and military police officials and security guards from developer Phan Imex, along with hired workers carrying axes, hammers and crowbars, began to tear down villagers’ houses in Prampi Makara district’s Veal Vong commune, sparking protests from residents.
In 2003, Phan Imex Company signed an agreement with the government to construct 10 buildings on two hectares of land to house 1,776 families, in exchange for development rights to a remaining 2.6 hectares.
The firm has so far constructed only eight of the buildings, leaving nearly 400 families in limbo.
Some families have since accepted offers of compensation and housing in two resettlement areas.
In June, the Post reported that Phan Imex owner Suy Sophan had penned a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2010 requesting permission to forego construction of the remaining two buildings and asking that the land be granted to the company. On Monday, more than 10 local officials and company guards attempted to dismantle 27 houses in Borei Keila, but were prevented by about 50 residents.
During the clash yesterday morning, two women were injured by police, while more than 100 villagers threw bricks and petrol-filled bottles, which injured deputy municipal police chief Phoung Malay and deputy district governor Sok Ath.
Officials, guards and workers briefly withdrew to the district hall while residents gathered bricks, logs, branches and tyres and formed a blockade on the road leading to the village.
An hour later, officials returned with three fire trucks, an excavator and a bulldozer, breaching the blockade within half an hour and firing tear gas at residents who burned piles of rubbish and threw lit petrol-filled bottles and bricks.
District military police chief Soy Chandy sustained a head injury during the confrontation. Ten villagers, including a woman and two boys, were arrested.
Por Un, 73, whose house was demolished, spoke tearfully that she had waited for five years to receive housing from the company.
“They acted cruelly toward poor people,” she said.
“They have to pay us with a house or give us money, so that we can buy a new house or we will not leave from here.”
Var Ponlok, a military official whose house was torn down and who was due to be married in Borei Keila on Thursday, said the workers had bulldozed villagers’ homes without seeking a resolution for residents.
Villager Um Nam said that he wanted the company and authorities to implement the 2003 agreement.
Seven-year-old Noun Socheata cried when she returned from school to see her grandparents collecting their possessions from a pile of demolished houses.
Phan Imex owner Suy Sophan could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Municipal police chief Touch Naruth declined to comment yesterday, while deputy municipal police chief Hy Prou referred questions to fellow deputy municipal police chief Phoung Malay and deputy provincial governor Noun Someth, neither of whom could be reached.
Kiet Chhe, deputy municipal administration chief, said that 30 officials had sustained injuries in the clash and one district commander had been hospitalised. He added that eight villagers were being detained by authorities.
In a joint statement released yesterday, 11 civil society groups condemned the “violent eviction” of Borei Keila residents.
“The destruction of these homes marks yet another sad turn for a development that was once promoted as a model alternative to the eviction and off-site relocation of …Phnom Penh’s urban poor,” the statement said.